September 1, 1947 was forestry day at the annual session of the FAO Conference at Geneva. In two plenary meetings, Commission II of the Conference examined world policy on forestry and forest products. The decisions taken at these meetings constitute an important step, not only in the development of international co-operation between foresters, growers, producers, and consumers of timber but also in the trend toward a new common world policy for all the products of the land and of the sea.
In contrast with decisions taken at preceding sessions of the Conference, these relate to a limited number of major projects that can be got under way at once. They are thus a sign that FAO has progressed from the stage of making programs to that of putting them into practice.
It was this change that led the Geneva Conference to set up a new procedure for the discussions. Like its predecessors, the third session of the FAO Conference devoted only a few days to plenary meetings, the main tasks being performed by several large commissions sitting simultaneously. This time there were three commissions, which dealt respectively with (1) the world situation in food and agriculture; (2) technical activities of FAO, and (3) administrative, constitutional, and financial problems. But while at Quebec and Copenhagen each commission was subdivided into committees to carry out the bulk of the work, the commissions at the Geneva Conference dealt with the items on their agendas in plenary sessions.
This new procedure was adopted chiefly because of the experience gained at Quebec and Copenhagen. In point of fact, the referring of different questions on the agenda to committees of experts has serious disadvantages, shown in a striking way by the experience of the forestry and forest products committees at the Quebec and Copenhagen Conferences. These committees had always succeeded in formulating their recommendations and conclusions with an astonishing unanimity; nevertheless, their recommendations gained hardly any attention from the principal delegates to the Conference and still less from their governments. Approved by the Conference, they remained for the most part a dead letter; and the principal aim of the Conference - to draw up programs and recommendations which governments by their votes pledge themselves to carry out - was not fulfilled. Other technical committees had a similar experience, but the case of forestry is particularly striking since the heads of governments and even the ministers responsible for agricultural and industrial production are in all countries inclined to consider forestry problems as a specialty that must be left to experts.
Palace of Nations, Geneva, where the Third Session of the FAO Conference was held.
The discussion of technical problems in plenary sessions avoids the disadvantages of the committees of experts. It is true that within the framework of such discussions the time available for the Forestry and Forest Products Division is very limited, but this applies also to the other divisions. And to compensate for it, the discussion now takes place in the presence of the principal delegates (who are not specialists) and of the public and the press who are thus obliged to give all their attention during six hours to problems which they are not used to considering and to appreciate their importance for the world economy and the well-being of the peoples.
Obviously many forestry experts wondered whether a single day devoted to discussions justified the long and costly journey which many of them had had to take to be present at the annual session of the FAO Conference. The answer is that the principal object of their journey was to participate in a great common work of which forestry constitutes an important part. The task of each delegate was to put before his colleagues from other countries and other sections of the agricultural and forestry economy his special problems, but at the same time to listen to their points of view and to give them the same attention as he expected to receive.
It is necessary to take account also of the fact that the forestry and forest products committees of the 1945 and 1946 Conferences were not a world parliament. On the one hand, time was much too limited to allow detailed discussions. On the other hand, participation in those committees was neither uniform nor complete; certain countries were represented by practical foresters, others by growers or by technological or international timber-trade experts, while some countries were not represented at all for the simple reason that their delegations were not large enough or did not include forestry experts.
During the course of the past year certain questions had already been studied by conferences of experts, such as the statistical conferences held in Washington and Rome, and by the technical committees. This practice will be extended and will enable the annual session of the Conference to examine at a higher level a great variety of well-studied subjects. The plenary sessions of Commission II were the ideal place for such a survey.
The discussions in the commission did not, however, constitute the only form of contact between foresters and timber experts. At the first meeting of the commission, its outstanding chairman, P. J. du Toit, the delegate of South Africa, suggested that the experts take advantage of the Conference to hold meetings among themselves. This suggestion was followed, and in the days preceding 1 September, the Director of the Division of Forestry and Forest Products was able to arrange for several meetings devoted to the more detailed study of the progress report and of the program of work for 1948 which he had prepared. During these meetings, held under the chairmanship of Professor E. Saari of Finland, the finishing touches were put to the list of questions to be discussed by the commission, and Bernard Dufay, Director-General of the Water and Forests of France, was nominated as rapporteur for forestry questions. This choice was unanimously confirmed by the commission on the opening of the discussions.
As a result of this preparation the two meetings of 1 September were able to cover a wide field. In fact, after the work and program of the Division had been presented by its director, the commission adopted no less than twelve recommendations, which will govern the activities of FAO in the matter of forestry and forest products for 1948 and even later. These recommendations are as follows:
(1) Approval of the recommendations of the International Timber Conference at Marianske Lazne.
(2) Approval of the closest co-operation between FAO and the Economic Commission for Europe.
This will imply the organization of a Timber Subcommittee for Europe as a permanent organization.
(3) Recommendation that the European countries concerned should meet together from time to time within the framework of FAO to exchange information and views about their problems in the field of medium- and long-term forestry.
This will mean periodical consultation between experts, leading to the creation of a European Commission for Forestry and Forest Products, in which all interested governments will participate.
(4) Convocation in 1948 of a conference devoted to the study of forestry and forest-products problems in Latin America.
(5) Preparation for a forestry conference of the countries of southern and eastern Asia, if possible before. the end of 1948.
(6) The organization in 1949 of a third World Forestry Congress, and the provisional designation of Finland as the country where the congress will be held.
(7) The sending of experts to study forestry problems in the Mediterranean area and the Near East.
(8) Development of the review, UNASYLVA.
(9) Approval of the statistical program of FAO, both for the preparation of an inventory of forest resources and for the publication of annual and quarterly statistics on forest products, thereby permitting implementation of the conclusions of the statistical conferences held at Washington and Rome.
(10) Recommendation to member countries to establish forestry and forest-products subcommittees as part of their FAO national committees.
(11) Approval of the work of the Advisory Committee on Forestry and Forest Products and notably of its method of work, which consists in delegating to subcommittees each of the specialized problems forming part of the work of FAO.
(12) Necessity of including a forestry expert among the members of all FAO general agricultural missions.
Attendance at the meetings of 1 September was commensurate with the importance of the questions dealt with, and showed the increasing importance attached to the part played by forests in the world economy. Professor Myrdal, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, was present at the discussions concerning European forest policy, and F. L. McDougall, Counselor of FAO, followed the discussions very closely throughout the day. Practically all the seats around the table, where a place had been reserved for each member and observer country, were occupied, and the length of the speeches was limited only by the time available, a matter that had to be strictly watched by the chairman. A. Fjelstad, delegate of Norway, who, since the Hot Springs Conference has never ceased to work for the cause of forestry within FAO, drew the attention of delegates to the discrepancy between the Division's program and its budget. He was followed in the discussion by E. I. Kotok, Assistant Chief of the U. S. Forestry Service, who has always played his part in FAO Is work and discussions on forestry questions. Bernard Dufay gave fresh proof of the clearness and courage which characterize all his speeches. H. G. Winkelmann delegate of Switzerland, and G. Zvérina, who had represented Czechoslovakia at Copenhagen, Paris, and Marianske Lazne, were also present.
To these old friends were added newcomers, notably Professor E. Saari, the well-known Finnish forestry expert, who I as chairman of the Finnish delegation, brought his country officially into FAO. Count A. Ceschi was there, the Austrian well known for his international activities before the war, and also Inspector-General Colleaux of Belgium and D. Caplan of the United Kingdom, who had both participated actively in the work and success of the Marianske Lazne conference. Finally the growing interest of the Latin American countries was shown by the participation of forestry experts from Chile, Colombia, and Brazil. Mr. Ducci, the young organizer of the modern forest industry in Chile, was frequently their spokesman.
Forestry questions were discussed not only in Commission II of the Conference. Forest products, and particularly building timber, were also on the agenda of Commission I, and a fairly complete report on the world situation as regards building timber, wood pulp, pit props, and other forest products was prepared for the delegates. Nevertheless, the discussion of these problems in Commission I took only a fairly short time as the subject had been studied in such detail at the Marianske Lazne Conference that the annual session of the FAO Conference had merely to confirm the conclusions reached at the former gathering.
The situation will doubtless be different at the next annual Conference, when Commission I reviews the activities of the FAO Council, the new body whose establishment was the principal work of the Geneva Conference. Timber has already been entered among the products that will be given immediate attention by the Council. During the coming months the Council will follow up, on the one hand, the evolution of world needs and availability of timber and, on the other, more particularly the work of the Timber Subcommittee of the ECE and its efforts to bring about a definite understanding between governments on the subject of timber production and distribution in Europe.
The annual session of the Conference in 1948 will be even better prepared to discuss the question of forestry products since the statistics to be gathered by the Forestry and Forest Products Division from now until the date of the Conference will enable the relation between present and future world needs for forest products and the productive capacity of the world's forests to be expressed for the first time in terms of figures.
The next annual session of the FAO Conference will be marked by another innovation as a result of decisions taken at Geneva: in future the chairmen of the Standing Advisory Committees to the five technical divisions of FAO will form a Coordinating Committee that will perform the technical and administrative functions of the former Executive Committee of FAO, which was discontinued as a result of the constitutional changes voted at Geneva. For his part, the chairman of the Standing Advisory Committee of the Forestry and Forest Products Division will consult his colleagues before the annual session of the Conference and will be able to present their conclusions to Commission II of the Conference.
A similar procedure had in fact already been adopted this year: the report on activities and the program of work presented by Marcel Leloup to Commission II had previously been examined and revised by the Standing Advisory Committee on Forestry and Forest Products in the course of a meeting held in June 1947 at Washington. However, this procedure - to be followed next year in a more official form - will have increased importance.
At the next annual session of the Conference, also, a more formal role will be given to the consultations between foresters and timber experts in order that the problems which interest them may be discussed in detail before they are examined by Commission II. In this way the advantages of the new procedure, which has proved efficacious at Geneva, will be retained, while experts from all parts of the world will be given new possibilities of coming into contact with each other and taking a truly active part in the elaboration of FAO's world policy.
Pending the next annual Conference, the Director of the Forestry and Forest Products Division has already begun to carry out the decisions of the Geneva Conference: the first Year Book of Forestry and Timber Statistics will be published shortly; the Timber Subcommittee of ECE has already held its first meeting and is ready to meet a second time. Its secretariat, installed at Geneva, is made up of technical staff from FAO. Preparations are in progress for a forestry conference in Latin America.